Nineteen Bulldog seniors took one final stroll Friday across R. Basil Rutter Field — soaking in their memories, triumphs and heartbreaks that lay intertwined in the turf.
“I think more than anything, the public doesn’t realize the number of hours that we all really spend together,” coach Ryan Adams said. “There’s very few family members that spend as much time together as we spend together as a group of men. It creates bonds that are different than in other sports. It’s not just your four-month football season — from the middle of July until the end of October — it’s all December and January and February, March, April, May, June, July. We’re together a lot.”
The Bulldogs’ 55-16 victory over River Valley meant a lot more to the Athens players and coaching staff than any other victory this season. A victory on senior night was something special.
“I seriously think of these guys, these 19 seniors, as my brothers,” running back Evan Adams said. “I’ve grown up with them my whole life in Athens and they’ve been with me ever since I started football.”
In the midst of an emotional night, two minutes and 59 seconds is all it took for Athens to put up a 21-0 lead against River Valley.
The Bulldogs (8-1, 5-0 Tri-Valley Conference) went on to trounce the Raiders (0-9, 0-6 TVC) in convincing fashion. An explosive offensive performance led that cause.
The Bulldogs outgained the Raiders by 220 yards in the first half, resulting in a 42-0 lead at halftime.
“I think certainly we’ve found a little bit more of our groove (offensively),” coach Adams said. “I think Coach White has done a great job like he has always done as our coordinator up with our offense. I think he’s found out the things that really work well for us and we’ve stuck to those the last couple of weeks.”
The Bulldogs averaged eight yards per play, and in the end, tallied 361 yards of total offense in comparison to the Raiders’ 147 total yards — most of which came in the second half.
Quarterback Clay Davis and his backup, Joey Moore, had solid nights passing. Davis went 8-for-9 through the air for 105 yards. He connected with Nate Trainer on a 15-yard touchdown pass. Moore then went a perfect 4-for-4 for 41 yards passing when his time in the pocket came.
Davis averaged 6 yards per carry on the ground while Adams, his senior classmate, averaged just over 7 yards per carry. They each rushed for two touchdowns in the final home game of their highly-respected careers.
Mikel Casteel and Xander Karagosian also added touchdowns on the ground for the Bulldogs.
“I think that more than anything else what fueled tonight’s game was the fact that we had 19 seniors that played a lot of football together as Bulldogs and they knew this was their last chance to go out here on R. Basil Rutter Field,” coach Adams said. “They wanted to go out with a vengeance and have a good performance. I think they certainly brought it and were able to do that.”
Seniors Lane Heller and Evan Steenrod led the Bulldogs’ suffocating defensive attack with four tackles each. The Raiders mustered together only 20 yards in the first 24 minutes of play due to the pressure put forth by the Bulldogs.
Athens enters the last week of the regular season undefeated in the TVC-Ohio and with only one loss out of conference.
Athens clinched a share of the TVC-Ohio on Friday and can clinch the outright title next week with a win over its nemesis Nelsonville-York.
With the Bulldogs still sitting on the bubble in the Division III Region 11 playoff picture, that adds even more pressure on the Bulldogs to come out of Nelsonville with a victory. But it won’t be an easy task.
This Athens senior class hasn’t defeated Nelsonville-York since 2015.
“We’re very focused for this week especially because I think it’s about time that we beat Nelsonville,” Adams said. “It’s been too long and I’m very much looking forward to this matchup.”
And what is it going to take to clinch the outright TVC title and defeat Nelsonville-York on its home turf? A lot of preparation, according to coach Adams.
“We’ll be starting early,” coach Adams said. “Our preparations start at 9 a.m. tomorrow.”